Please state your name and a little about your current status.
Hello, my name is Donny O’Malley. I’m a native of Queens, New York and a retired Marine Captain who spent six years in the Corps as an infantry officer, rifle platoon commander and fire-support team leader. I’m also the founder and CEO for VET Tv, otherwise known as Veteran Television, and the founder of, and a standing board member for the nonprofit foundation Irreverent Warriors, whose mission is to foster community among our U.S. veterans while striving to combat veteran suicide.
What exactly does your company do?
We like to think of ourselves as the Comedy Central of the Military. We’re the military channel that the military doesn’t want you to see. We’re TV that’s made by Vets for Vets. The humor in our shows is admittedly dark and irreverent humor, but again it’s programming that’s made by Vets for Vets.
VET Tv is a streaming video on demand (SVOD) channel that currently is available on iTunes and Google Play and as of today, has just shy of 42,000 subscribers. Thus far, we’ve produced 13 original series and one feature film, and we just recently finished filming our 14th original series here in Southern California. Our feature film, ‘A Grunt’s Life,’ is due for release in November.
And on the nonprofit side, Irreverent Warriors has developed into an organization that hosts Silkies Hikes all around the nation, hikes in which supporters trek long distances while laughing and connecting with other veterans. We’re in more than 60 U.S. cities and with each hike we’re strengthening the veteran community. The end result of a stronger sense of community is a reduction of the desire to commit suicide.
How did you start your company/business as a startup?
It’s a bit of a long story but it really grew from a desire to make people laugh. I had long wanted to replicate Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in which I’d build my own entertainment company and have it be run by my family and friends. After I got out of the Marine Corps, I figured I would do the conservative thing and be a teacher and coach for a number of years and pursue the entertainment/comedy avenue later down the line, but I experienced a few life-altering moments and needless to say, things happened a lot faster than I’d planned.
I created a blog where I told funny stories about our life and experiences in the military. Over time, I developed a following, mostly of combat grunts from around the military, but a following nonetheless. One of those followers was a guy I served within the Corps who I was stationed within the Wounded Warrior Battalion, as my service was coming to an end. He was severely wounded from the war in the Middle East and had endured through numerous struggles, but one day he sent me a text and told me that my writing was the only thing that could make him laugh hysterically. He told me it was God’s work and that I should never stop being raw and honest. It was pretty powerful stuff for an aspiring artist to hear. Well, just as quickly as it inspired me, two months later I found out my buddy was dead, he killed himself. I attended his wake, and the memory of his mother wailing over his casket and asking ‘why, why, why’ is something that I just couldn’t let go of. I decided to give her a reason why. I would do something to reduce suicides, so one day I could tell her that he died so others could live.
Fast forward from that day and I had been writing a book, Embarrassing Confessions of a Marine Lieutenant, that I’d planned to self-publish upon completion. Once I reached that stage, I created short stories to promote the book. As I did so, the first one ended up going viral, so I did a second and it too went viral, and before long I had a series of videos I was creating to promote this book and they were all going viral. While this was happening, I read some posts and comments online and one that really stuck with me was ‘This is great. No one else is doing this. I would pay for it’ and from there it went.
So knowing nothing about how to launch a TV channel, I sat down one day and Googled ‘How do I start my own Netflix.’ One of the first results that came up was a network called Black and Sexy TV. They felt that the American black experience wasn’t being accurately portrayed in film and television so they sought to change it. They thought BET and Tyler Perry had kind of watered-down what they felt was the young black experience in America so they created a network of shows that were supposed to be relatable for African-Americans between the ages of 20 and 40. Young and progressive was their branding and they had around 12,000 people paying $7.99 a month for their programs. I looked at that and said to myself ‘replace the word black with veteran, and that’s what I’m gonna start,’ so I looked at the platform they used, which is the same one we use today, Vimeo OTT, formerly a company called VHX, and we set the wheels in motion. The only problem was that I didn’t have the money. Some guys, who are now my friends of mine had done an Indiegogo campaign that raised $1.2 million for a movie called Range 15, so I thought if they can raise $1.2 million for a movie, I can raise at least a quarter-million for a network. And we did it. We raised $300,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and that money was the seed funding for this business.
What struggle did you go through to reach your current status now?
Honestly, the biggest struggle was we almost didn’t make it to the completion of our first show. The first show we filmed was A Grunt’s Life, the same show we’ll be re-releasing in November as a full-length feature film, but when we started filming the show, I didn’t have the money to complete it.
I had a few friends on speed dial who had told me they would help me out with some money if I got really desperate, but fortunately, I ended up getting another friend to loan me $100,000 and that money was enough to allow us to finish the series.
That was a scary time for us and in all honesty, it was a turning point for the company because I knew that particular show had the potential to serve as the foundation for VET Tv. And I knew that if we filmed it as I had envisioned it in my head that it was going to be a hit. I knew it was going to be the favorite thing that an infantryman has ever seen, especially someone who has been to combat. And for a lot of people, that’s exactly what they say.
Anyways we did manage to finish that show and since then we’ve released 12 more and we just recently finished filming a 13th.
How did you manage to cope up with those struggles?
Again, we were very fortunate that I had some extremely benevolent friends who saw the vision that we had and were willing to step in and help us. I can’t think to imagine what might have happened had we not been bailed out and able to make it through that first season, but now we have a full staff at VET Tv and we’ve released 13 original series where we release one TV show a week, at least 15 minutes long, and we have even greater aspirations for VET Tv as we move forward into the years ahead.
Who inspired you to move forward and influenced you in all your achievements now?
Obviously, the guy I spent time within the Wounded Warrior Battalion who took his life will forever have an impact and influence on me, but we have literally heard hundreds, if not thousands, of stories from guys who’ve told us that what we’re doing has kept them from killing themselves. So many of our soldiers come home and have an extremely difficult time reacclimating to society in general and what we’re doing is giving them back a small piece of that life and family that they experienced during their time in the service. It’s a lonely place when you come back and try to fit back in, especially after being in some of the places we’ve been and seen some of the things we’ve seen, so if we can give these men and women a little piece of that, while at the same time doing so in a manner that they can laugh at, that’s helping them solve the problem.
Just recently too, I had a guy tell me that watching VET Tv pulled him out of a dark place and made him feel normal. Anyone who’s dealt with depression on any level knows how de-motivating life can be when you’re in a depressed state. The daily functions of getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, eating healthy foods, exercising, being on time to things, everything, you just don’t care about it as much. He said we pulled him out of his funk to the point that he started going back to school and he went from working two jobs to getting a new job with a union and thus he went from having a job to a career. He said that he would watch our shows almost every day and that it helped get him through those dark days.
What piece of advice will you share with those who would like to follow your footsteps?
Just don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. One of my favorite life quotes is ‘you can do anything you set your mind to.’ I believe that and I like to think I’m living proof that it’s true. While I did have a lot of support, there were also plenty of doubters along the way, but look at what we’ve achieved. We’re certainly not where we want to be yet and we want to continue to grow and become a brand that is talked about in every household in this great country of ours. Just don’t give up. Like the quote says, you can do anything you set your mind to.
How can people follow your journey? Please list your social media URLs
Instagram: @vet_tv and @donnyomalley
Twitter: @Veteran_TV and @DonnyOMalley
Facebook: VET Tv-Veteran Television and Donny O’Malley
YouTube: VET Tv-Veteran Television and Donny O’Malley